Choosing The Right Suit
December 27th, 2008
Which Suit Is Right For You?
Choosing the right suit presents a closet-full of challenges and opportunities to those faced with building a wardrobe. From suit silhouettes, pricing and fashionable obsolescence to pant fronts, button counts and lapel widths, there's much to consider.
"The biggest problem in teaching men how to dress is that there's no one for them to look at," says Alan Flusser, author of Dressing the Man (Harper Collins, 2002), who believes that one of the primary reasons business casual failed is that the apparel industry never showed men how to look good in it. "Men in general definitely need help with suits. But once it's explained why they should buy a particular garment, they're pretty quick studies."
Suits can be broken down into three basic styles:
European (i.e., Italian), British and American. The European suit typically has padded shoulders, no vents, a full-chested and V-shaped jacket and "slash"--i.e., flapless--pockets. Across the English Channel, the classic British suit sports a military demeanor with padded shoulders, two vents, pinched waist, flap pockets and boldly striped or plaid patterns. On our side of the pond, the epitome of traditional American styling is the "sack suit" favored by Ivy Leaguers back in the 1920s, with natural shoulders, one vent in the back, straight-hanging lines and flap pockets. Many designers cross cultural lines, such as Bronx native Ralph Lauren, who has a distinct Anglo-Saxon sensibility, and the Italianesque ensembles of American Joseph Abboud.
For tailoring options, the bespoke suit is the finest. Best exemplified by the enduring shops of London's Savile Row, such as Anderson & Sheppard and H. Huntsman, bespoke suits are created by exacting teams of highly skilled tailors and artisans to fit your every inch. They may take up to five fittings and six weeks of work to complete, and starting prices run upwards of $3,000. Meanwhile, Hong Kong is loaded with bespoke tailors who, though not the bargain they used to be, can still get you fitted nicely--and for a lot less than three grand.
Off-the-rack suits are the least costly and the most convenient option, provided you're happy with the fabric and fit. But these days many suit makers also offer a "made-to-measure" alternative that allows customers to choose the fabric, styling options and details before allowing a tailor to take measurements and forward the order to the factory. A semi-finished suit is then returned to the store for fitting and finishing. Brioni, Kiton, Hickey-Freeman and others offer made-to-measure lines, as do specialty men's stores such as Louis Boston. Expect prices to run 15%-25% above off-the-rack.
Whatever the tailoring option, men's suits are either "full canvas"--i.e., handmade with a free-floating piece of material between the jacket's exterior fabric and interior lining--"fused" together with glue, or some combination of the two. The benefits of full-canvas construction include attention to detail, durability and a freer and more natural appearance. Though fused suits tend to be stiffer and their glue breaks down over time, they are also vastly more affordable, with prices ranging from $200 to $1,000.
Suit fabrics come in a wide array of colors, patterns and qualities: Hickey-Freeman has some 700 swatches available for special order, while H. Huntsman's wools range from Super 90s to Super 200s--a grading designation that refers to the number of centimeters a single piece of yarn can be stretched. The longer the stretch, the higher the quality, the more luxurious the feel and the lighter the weight of the yarn.